The federal response to the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic is an ongoing effort, and there is still money available to help with local aid, according to U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga.
Loeffler is set to begin a nine-day, 14-county statewide tour July 8. She spoke with the Daily Post this week about the ongoing effort to address pandemic relief, as well as the push to encourage Americans to wear face masks in public.
Over the course of the conversation, she gave a glimpse of what the federal government could be doing in the future to address the pandemic.
“Our focus is going to be continuing to look at what have we learned and how do we apply these learnings to have a very targeted and effective response from a health perspective and an economic perspective,” Loeffler said.
This past week saw Congress take new steps to protect Americans who have been hit financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. One measure the Senate took was to vote to extend the Paycheck Protection Program, with the House of Representatives following suit later in the week.
Loeffler said that extension means Georgia small businesses affected by the pandemic have until Aug. 8 to apply for the coronavirus relief funding and, if they get the money, continue paying employees.
She wasn’t sure how long the federal government would ultimately have to continue the program, however.
“I think we’re going to wait and see,” Loeffler said. “There’s about $130 billion left in the PPP program and, in Georgia, we’ve been able to deliver $14 billion to employers, to businesses to help keep their doors open.
“What we need to look at is who needs to get the relief that hasn’t received it, and how can we continue to refine the program. I have kept an open dialogue with (U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin) and (U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell) about the designs of the programs and I supported legislation that ensured nonprofits such as churches and YMCAs can get access to it while limiting the ability of organizations like Planned Parenthood to access it.”
The bill Loeffler referred to is the Limiting Infant Fatality and Empowering Nonprofit Organization Workforces Act, also known as the LIFE NOW Act.
Senator backs calls to wear face masks
Loeffler also joined the growing number of Republican officials who are encouraging Americans to wear face masks in public.
Health officials had been encouraging face masks since the pandemic began, but lately there has been a new push by several GOP officials, including Gov. Brian Kemp, Vice-President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to encourage greater use of face masks in public.
Kemp undertook a statewide tour this past week to urge Georgians to wear face masks, and was joined by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams at some stops along the way.
“We need to continue to take that personal responsibility to keep ourselves, our families, our fellow Georgians safe, and so I think it’s a common sense measure to take as we really start to look at schools opening in the fall, getting back into church, into football season,” Loeffler said.
“So, I think this is a basic measure that I think many are following and I think we have to trust the efforts of Georgians to do what they can to keep themselves and their families and communities safe.”
Loeffler did not back a federal mandate being issued to wear face masks, however. Instead, she said it’s a state issue to deal with, leaving it up to individual governors to decide whether residents of their states should be forced to wear masks.
In Georgia, Kemp has called a face mandate a “bridge too far” for him to go.
“I think certainly states know their local situation best and I trust that the states will continue to do what’s best for their citizens just as Georgia has done,” Loeffler said.
CARES Act funding still available
Loeffler also talked about federal funds that are available to Georgians and institutions to help offset the impact the pandemic is having on the community.
“There remains significant funding left in the CARES Act to make sure that our hospitals (and) our health agencies — our public health agencies — are funded, but also getting that relief to families and employers,” Loeffler said. “So, I’ve been really focused on the case work that we’ve done across the state to connect Georgians to that relief, but then also working with the governor to figure out what the needs are on the ground.”
As Congress continues to work on legislation related to the COVID-19 response, however, Loeffler said she expects areas that have not already been addressed will begin to get a look.
“I think there will be an effort to look at what was missed by the CARES Act holistically,” she said. “There’s another element in the CARES Act called the Main Street Lending Program. That’s for slightly larger employers. So, for those family-owned businesses, such as a restaurant, (what could be looked at is) what can we do to really target sectors and industries — hospitality for example.
“Travel and hospitality have been so hard hit. They’re major employers. They provide services that we all rely on in our every day lives and it’s vitally important that they are there when we’re ready to get back to normal activities, so we will definitely be looking at that.”
Loeffler also pushes back against ‘Defund The Police’ movement
Another big issue in the news lately has been the protests over the treatment of African-Americans. There have been several protests in metro Atlanta, as well as elsewhere around the country over the issue.
The senator did issue support for police and other law enforcement as protests have targeted their treatment of minority populations. She has been particularly opposed to the movement to defund police departments.
Loeffler said she believes that movement hurts officer morale and increases the chances of rising crime rates. As a result, she signed on as a co-sponsor of the Justice Act filed by Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., that is designed to be a Republican attempt at police reform.
Loeffler also filed the Protecting Public Safety and Support Law Enforcement Act, which targets federal highway safety funding for communities that choose to decrease funding for police, in June.
“The left is pushing this dangerous effort to defund the police, and I have been working hard to support law enforcement,” Loeffler said. “I have introduced legislation that would cause municipalities and states to lose federal funding dollars if they, like New York City did (Tuesday) night, actively move to defund the police without a budgetary reason.”
But as the protests have taken place this summer, with most of them being peaceful, conservatives — particularly President Donald Trump — have been targeting Antifa, a left-leaning group. They have been accusing the group of stirring violence that has broken at some protests.
In early June, Loeffler co-sponsored a resolution to label Antifa a domestic terrorist organization. At the time, she alleged that “the violence, destruction and anarchy brought to cities across America by mobs incited by Antifa are not principled protests and are detracting from the peaceful protests.”